We see the photos and watch the videos, but in person, it’s all different. Last week, two of us here at MortgageKeeper saw parts of our own city destroyed when an F2 tornado hit the north side of Minneapolis.

Thousands of homes, apartment buildings, and businesses were damaged or destroyed. Add to that power outages, gas leaks, and tragic loss of life and property. More than 2,000 people are temporarily homeless.

What struck me with this latest disaster was the benefits of local, neighborhood assistance in the 24 hours after the tornado touched down at 2:15 CT last Sunday afternoon. The Facebook entries from the City of Minneapolis relate the following, after the first responders cleared the area:

4:15 pm: a shelter was set up at a local armory, and busses were running between the shelter and the affected neighborhood. The shelter offered food, medical care, mental health counseling and chaplain services.

5:00pm: the local 311 number for the City, usually closed Sunday afternoon, was up and running to take non-emergency calls.

8:00am, next morning: Two community organizations had set up clearinghouses for volunteers and donations.

Other help came within 24 hours of the tornado touchdown:

* Animal Care and Control offered no-cost kenneling to victims
* The Salvation Army created a drop off point for food, clothing, and supplies, and opened a mobile canteen.
* Community development agencies publicized free computer and phone access

And this is just a taste of how many organizations jumped into the phone booth and emerged ready to take charge.

Of course the federal and state agencies arrived on the scene as quickly as possible. But it was the neighborhood organizations–the local folks–who brought the goods and the comfort that were appropriate, fast, and, well, neighborly.

Now, odds are good that unless you live in Minnesota, you haven’t heard much about our natural disaster. An F4 tornado hit Joplin, Missouri, later that same day, and (rightly) pushed us out of the news. Local help is making a difference there, too.

In fact, when we think of any disasters–natural, or man-made–local help usually gets there faster and knows the need better than help from larger entities like the state and federal governments.

The current mortgage crisis is no exception.

Local help is a great way to reach struggling homeowners, helping them right their financial ship and keep their homes. Intuitively, we know this. But sometimes it takes other disasters to remind us of the potency of the locals.

(Here’s how to donate to help those in Joplin and Minneapolis.)